Israel’s high court placed the fate of the Palestinian village Susiya and its 340 residents in the hands of defense minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday, leaving it to him to decide whether the army will demolish nearly half its structures, mostly ramshackle dwellings.
On Monday, the court punted a petition the village had submitted with Rabbis for Human Rights requesting that it compel Israel’s occupation administration to recognize the legality of structures that Palestinians had built without permits from the army.
The president of the court, Miriam Naor, said she would reject the petition, but left the decision to Lieberman.
The Civil Administration, the name Israel gives to the military bureaucracy that rules the lives of millions of Palestinians, has refused to grant any building permits to the village.
Susiya is in the South Hebron Hills, and is part of “Area C” – about 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli military control with no presence of the Palestinian Authority, according to the terms of the Oslo accords signed by the PLO and Israel in the early 1990s.
This is the second time the high court has ruled unfavorably to Susiya in just over a year.
In May 2015, the court struck down the village’s petition seeking to halt any more demolitions. That ruling initiated a series of talks between the village and occupation authorities over the last year.
According to human rights group B’Tselem, occupation authorities have been in discussion with Susiya residents to reach a compromise that would not involve forced displacement, and would possibly include retroactive recognition of the village structures to permanently stave off destruction.
But Israel “abruptly halted” the talks last month, B’Tselem said in a 26 July statement.
It was reported last summer that military officials had suggested to the villagers they were under increasing pressure from settlers to relocate the village. The Jerusalem Postreported that Israel cut off the talks in June, as soon as Lieberman was appointed defense minister, but only informed the village a few weeks ago.
The ring of Israeli settlements that surrounds Susiya has effectively cut the villagers off from their own land.
Settlers have been documented harassing Palestinian residents, cutting down and stealing their crops and damaging property.
Last year, the looming demolition of Susiya attracted an unusual round of condemnations from Israel’s European and US allies. Though the demolitions were delayed at the time, B’Tselem fears there are imminent signs the army will soon begin bulldozing villagers’ homes.
The court gave Lieberman two weeks to rule on the village’s survival. The Palestinian Authority has made public appeals to the “international community” to stop the plans to raze Susiya.
Palestinians in Area C are more vulnerable now than ever before.
Israel’s army has demolished more Palestinian structures there in the first half of 2016 than in any single year in the last decade, with the exception of 2013. A total of 168 buildings were demolished in the first six months of this year, making 740 people homeless. But the ramifications of the incessant threat of destruction go far beyond these numbers.
“The policy adopted by the Israeli authorities vis-à-vis these communities keeps residents from maintaining any semblance of a normal routine, imposes a life of constant uncertainty on local residents and constitutes harassment per se,” B’Tselem wrote last month.
Sixty-two-year-old Rizqiyeh Abd al-Rahman Bani Fadel of Khirbet al-Twayel in the Jordan Valley, told B’Tselem earlier this year that the Israeli army destroyed her family’s room made of concrete blocks and a corrugated metal roof, forcing them to move back into a small tent where she felt “suffocated” by the cramped confines. “You couldn’t even stand up in it for prayers.”
“At night we listen all the time for the sound of military vehicles that could come at any moment – not only to demolish our home, but the homes of everyone who lives in this area. That makes it hard to sleep,” she added.
While residents of Area C endure the brunt of Israel’s occupation, B’Tselem emphasizes that its policies there have deep ramifications for all Palestinians in the West Bank: “The majority of the West Bank’s land reserves and natural resources lie in Area C so that making use of them – for expanding Palestinian communities or building factories, for agriculture, for laying water pipes or paving roads – is subject to Israeli approval, and such authorization is rarely granted.”
Meanwhile, in recent weeks the Israeli government has also approved a series of tenders for settlement construction in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem.
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